Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More on "Something clicked"

In a comment to my previous post , Diggitt said, "That world is out there whether we like it or not, and focusing on our own small selves will only delay that examination." That was not what I meant, although rereading the post, I can see where one might come to that conclusion. My meaning was closer to the warning one receives on an airplane, "Should the oxygen masks deploy, secure your own before attempting to help others."

Why have our numbers dropped despite our advertising, our "bring a friend to church" programs, and all other efforts? It is clear- at least to me- that the problem is not the lack of exposure, it's that the visitors aren't finding anything that makes them want to stay; we simply aren't relevant to their lives. I'm sure that this is why our church is statistically Lilly-white, despite all our AR/AO efforts.

Have you ever attended an African American or mixed race church? Not just once for a RE project, but really attended, spent some time there? I have; in my youth I went to a Baptist church that was mixed, and it was a very different experience from what one finds in a UU church. They, like us, are heavily into social justice and activism- look at the controversy over the social commentary at then-candidate Obama's church! But they, unlike us, also preach sin and personal redemption; they, unlike us, teach to look within for the causes of evil, and how to fight it, how to be on constant guard against it. they, unlike us, are speaking of personal issues relevant to the daily lives of the butts in the pew.

Why has religion been so central to humankind since time immemorial? Because we are addicted to sin, and we know it; church is our rehab. If an alcoholic goes to an AA meeting and finds nothing but faxes firing off letters to congressmen, he'll leave and find a chapter that actually discusses alcoholism- that is why we don't retain those visitors. This doesn't mean that we stop our social activism; again, look at the African American churches- but it does mean that we have to start addressing personal, spiritual issues if we ever want to be relevant.

Read that sermon on sin that Diggitt referenced in the comment. It says many of the things I said in my previous post, things that need to be said over and over, and yet she also said, "I ran through our congregational archives and realize it's not a sermon the minister has chosen to post online. That's interesting in itself." It sure is. To me, it says that the minister was afraid of how it would be received, despite a parishioner having paid $125 to hear it. It says that a UU minister can't talk about our darker selves without being accused of preaching the Christian "inherent depravity" doctrine, that he can't speak of sin without being accused of believing in (cover your children's ears!) God. That is what must be changed if we are to be relevant, or even survive, let alone grow. I don't know that either of the candidates for UUA president can facilitate this change- or even wants to. But the only one who gives any evidence of even understanding it is Laurel Hallman.


ogre said...


... it's that the visitors aren't finding anything that makes them want to stay; we simply aren't relevant to their lives. I'm sure that this is why our church is statistically Lilly-white, despite all our AR/AO efforts.

Is part of what's tipping me towards Morales. We aren't shrinking (or not much). Given that the white population is shrinking, and given that we're so lily-white, we're being pretty successful--we're continuing to attract a large "market share" of the people who are... just like we were 50 years ago.

The problem is that the nation--and particularly the youth--are very rapidly ceasing to fit that demographic.

And that's something that Morales has targeted as a key issue.

Hallman, laudably, talks about our children and youth programs. But that's looking inside the barn doors, more than outside.

What else? Oh, I've preached sin... twice, I think... and salvation. Given how many times I've gotten to preach in my home congregation, it represents a pretty significant slice of what people have heard from me. And they've liked it.

But that's something I'd want to hear from pulpits, not (so much) from the president of the association, and NOT filtered to potentially interested folks who will hear it through the media... and will associate "sin" and "salvation" with the stuff they've been gagging up and rejecting from the Religious Right.

Joel Monka said...

You make a good point about the diference between the pulpit and UUA leadership, but I think there's a trickle-down effect. Rev Sinkford is a very political leader, sometimes even a partisan one, and it seemed to me that as the UUA leadership got more political, so too did the body of the UUA- and Peter Morales seems to me to be very much in this mold.

And yes, he has targeted our demographics, but being aware of an issue is not solving it. I've seen nothing from him that gives me any hope that he can change it. Increasing the number of Black and Hispanic faces in the pulpits is a laudable goal, and would make a good first impression, but the best advertising and the best salesmen in the world can't sell a product people don't want to buy. And over 99% of white Americans, and an even larger percentage of minorities simply ain't buying what we've been offering lately.

Diggitt said...

Joel, thanks for your response. You came to exactly the same conclusion I did about my minister's thinking ... which was one of the main reasons I wanted that sermon in the first place.

I believe our congregations need a lot of conversation about sin. The first step is to define it, and most of us fall down there. We agree that the old fish-on-Friday sins are not, but finally we get down to a point where recognized that what happened in this specific instance might have been sinful. Then I think we need to parse out the actual sin in the sinful situation. Is adultery in itself sinful or is there something deeper that makes adultery sinful, for instance? There's an ick factor to discussing adultery close to home, but I'd bet that at least 2/3 of the adults in our pews at any service have done something that in someone's mind constitutes adultery. We need to get through that extraneous stuff to define whatever sins UUs confront.

Ogre, I'm with you, especially in your last paragraph.

Incidentally, I don't think we are disagreeing (except about the election). This stuff is so hard to define, and we are stuck with words from outside our own personal cultures, and they are very freighted words.

kimc said...

Doug Muder has been preaching about religion as a guide for "how to live my life to be the best person I can be" for a while. I did a sermon on it too, quoting Doug liberally. I will send a copy of this post to my minister. We don't even have to call it "sin" to talk about getting the log out of our own eye before criticizing the splinter in another's eye.

Joel Monka said...

We don't have to call it "sin"; I agree there's baggage with the word. There seem to be problems with "right" and "wrong", too. Is there a better word for "that which befouls your soul, darkens your outlook on life, and starts a chain of negative consequences"?